It’s the small attentions to detail that make the difference when it comes to encouraging civic pride and fostering a sense of community, says Kate Jonietz, chair of Lloyd’s events and beautification committee. Hanging flower baskets downtown and improving the gardens in front of the town hall “kind of inspires the local businesses to get involved, too, when they see how easy it is to hang a few flower baskets or plant some flowers,” she says. “It doesn’t take much, and when you do just a little bit — it sounds corny to say it like this, but — the seeds grow. And it all contributes to looking like people care.”
Tourism to the Highland area has increased since Walkway Over the Hudson opened. Events in the hamlet attract more visitors from other areas every year. That recent growth is reflected in a downtown area with thriving businesses and new signs of life.
“I’m really proud of how the hamlet looks today,” Jonietz says. “People are walking into town because there’s a reason to come here. Our events draw people into town, and even when we don’t have events going on, we’re still a beautiful little quaint place to come visit.”
Lloyd’s town budget includes funding for beautification. The all-volunteer committee does the work.
Members AnnMarie Phillips Meisel and Stephanie Fraino are “literally my right and left arms,” Jonietz says. “I couldn’t do anything without those two ladies. They are phenomenal additions to anything we work on. And we’re lucky, too, that we have individuals who help us out, like James Morse, who saw me watering the hanging baskets one day and volunteered to do it. Nat Borsina is another retired gentleman who is always lending a hand. It’s those people who it’s nice to be able to call upon and know that they’re glad to help.”
The committee also includes Kate’s husband, Adolf Jonietz, and Lauriann Marion, Natasha Gasparro and Christina DeMaio. “I’m not a micromanager, so every person that I charge with a task, I trust their ability to get it done. If there’s a problem, they can come and talk to me, but I’m thankful I have these people to work with because they make it easier to get things done.”
Several individuals in town act as conduits to their organizations, bringing them all together when putting on the events. Angela Greco represents the Friends of the Library along with new contributor Kate Collins of the Friends group. Peter Bellizzi with the Boy Scouts is also the new president of the Hudson Valley Rail-Trail Association. Scott McCord is “our young, energetic, behind-the-scenes person taking care of clean-up and all the other things people don’t realize are part of putting on an event.”
The committee was once two separate entities. Jonietz was already a longtime member of the town events committee when she began working as confidential secretary to town supervisor Paul Hansut in 2012. Always a self-described “worker bee,” she became chair of the newly combined committee as a consequence of her new position. “It just kind of made sense. I had been involved in it for so long and there was no chair at the time.”
Events were taking place in Highland back then, but not to the extent or on the scale they are now. Halloween, for example, used to mean a simple costume parade at the middle school. Now it’s celebrated downtown with the streets closed to traffic block-party style. Residents and visitors are free to roam the hamlet and partake of all the activities offered. A similar format is used in December for “Light Up the Hamlet.” Spring brings “Easter Magic in the Hamlet” and “SpringFest.” The multifaceted daylong affair in the streets of the hamlet incorporates waiter races, bed races, children’s activities and live music.
Jonietz credits committee member Fraino for coming up with the idea for SpringFest, based on a festival she remembered from her childhood upstate. That sense of nostalgia for an earlier, small-town America runs through all town events, acknowledges Jonietz. “There is a little bit of nostalgia there. I was on the events committee for years, but I think that’s probably what I brought to the table when I became chair; that missing sense of nostalgia.”
This year marks the fifth anniversary for most of the Highland events. “It takes the first year to implement the idea, the second year to learn from the first year’s mistakes, and the third year to make it a success,” says Jonietz. “We’re at the point now where we’re always looking for polish and improvement and new ideas. We’re not afraid of a challenge, and we don’t think anything is crazy. Sometimes it’s the crazy idea that can really work.”
The committee also organizes the annual Independence Day celebration with fireworks. Patriots Day on September 11 is recognized with suitably serious ceremonies at the firehouse.
The Highland Business Association (HBA) assists the committee by providing manpower for events and helping with finances. In return, the committee partners with the HBA to provide support for the annual Harvest Fest event.
The next event in Highland will be the town board-hosted fifth annual senior citizens breakfast on Wednesday, August 24 from 9 to 11 a.m. at Highland Landing Park on River Road. Those wishing to attend will want to RSVP by August 19 to the supervisor’s office at 691-2144, ext. 100. The servers will be town youth, who benefit from being in the presence of their elders, says Jonietz. “It’s really nice to see the seniors treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The events and beautification committee meets on the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Methodist Church meeting room. New members are welcome. “We work really hard to make all the entities in town cohesive, and feel like they can come to us with questions and suggestions. We want them all to feel a part of it.”
Editor’s note: The willingness of residents to serve their communities plays a large role in what makes our towns so great. This is the fifth in a series of stories focusing on volunteer committees/commissions and how their activities change a town’s local color. If you’d like to suggest a group to be included in this series, please e-mail editor Deb Alexsa at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous “Sowing seeds of community” articles, visit newpaltzx.com.